Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fear and Speaking in Las Vegas

(This is a long review of my trip to Vegas last week. This TAM was a little different from the others I'd been to, because of the increased opportunities to make a fool out of myself.)

It seemed like a good idea at first. My hetero life partner Tim Farley (owner of What's The Harm?) and I would unleash our massive brains at The Amazing Meeting 7 in Las Vegas. During the paper presentations, we were going to combine our expertises (?) and tell everyone how to attract and keep readers at their web sites. It would be 20 minutes of inspirational bliss, ending in a swirl of thrown thongs. It would just be us on a bright Sunday morning with no more than 1,000 of our closest friends (beating my old record for crowd size by about 970). What could go wrong?

For starters, I could crap my pants. But I don't want to spoil the ending.

Tim was also giving a two-hour workshop, which sort of gripped his mind. And I was putting in a lot of hours at work and had just come off a long weekend in Minneapolis. We had our information together but arrived in Vegas without having rehearsed a word. No problem, because we had three days to kill.

Except Day 1 was Tim's workshop. But also, I was living with all the Skepchicks.

Honest. There were eight of the Skepchicks, either two or three Skepchick Spouses (depending on which day you meant), and either one or zero Skepchick Boyfriends (also depending on what day you meant) living in a rented villa. This is a group of some seriously awesome women, and I was but one of their cabana boys -- and I was the only cabana boy with a car. I had to run Skepchick Errands, and thanked them for the opportunity.

These errands mostly centered around the secret wedding of Head Skepchick and Girl Overlord Rebecca Watson to Unworthy Supplicant and Lucky Primate Sid Rodrigues. This wedding was happening on Day 3. Day 1 was spent retrieving Skepchicks from the airport, taking Rebecca and Sid to get a marriage license -- turns out you do need one in Vegas -- and then pitching a small Bridal Shower/Bachelor Party for those who knew (which was pretty much just the people in the villa and a couple of others). Male stripper and everything.

No problem. We have Day 2, right?

Except Day 2 was the official beginning of TAM, so we were in a conference room all day. That night, there was a performance of the Nigerian Spam Scam Scam, which was one of the funniest things ever, and a short concert by George Hrab, who has redefined the word "cool" to mean "exhibiting qualities similar to those of George Hrab." Then straight to bed, because we had to start prepping at about 7am the next day for The Secret Removing Rebecca From The Market ceremony.

Day 3. It's just over 24 hours before my paper. The Skepchicks and I have to smuggle in flowers and a three-tiered cake with no one catching on to what we were doing. It was touch'n'go.

"What are you doing with those flowers, Christian?"
"Ummm.... these roses are flatlining! I need a botanist STAT!"

The plan was to kick this off during a live recording of The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast, which includes Rebecca. During the Q&A session, Sid would step to the mike and ask Rebecca to marry him. Then on their queues, Rebecca's family would come up, and a minister (Skepchick A Kovacs had been ordained and got certified to marry people in Nevada), the bridesmaids (all the other Skepchicks) and groomsmen (the other Skeptics Guide members), and music (George Hrab). The rings were provided by Mythbusters' Adam Savage, and everyone in the room got a "You Have Been Forcibly Included Against Your Will" wedding invitation.

I got the whole thing on video. I'll post it here after I convert it.

The a post-wedding brunch at the Peppermill where we were required to eat omelets as big as our thighs.

Tim and I finally did get some rehearsal time that afternoon before the Skepchick Party and Alcohol Poisoning Test Lab.

I had a crucial but ancillary role in the Party: I drove the shuttle bus. The villa was more than 2 miles from the TAM hotel, which was a little far to walk. At night, there's a hot breeze that blows through which feels like Satan is farting in your face.

I volunteered for bus duty because:

  • I don't drink
  • I'm useless at loud parties since I normally can't hear a damn thing being said to me
  • It would have been a pretty pathetic party with no one there
  • Driving the van would make Rebecca happy
  • Making Rebecca happy would keep the other Skepchicks happy with me
  • When I have the general approval of the Skepchicks, life is easier on about eight levels

The surprising thing is that it was a lot of fun. Every vanload of people was different. It was like speed dating, but with a group. Each trip took about 6 minutes, then the conversation changed. Sometimes I'd be included, sometimes I'd eavesdrop on a conversation that began before I showed up.

Another thing that surprised me was that I drove that route back and forth for almost six hours. The hot blast from Satan's backside had cooled to the upper 80s by the time I stopped... at 3:30am. Sat around with the Chicks dissing about the party until 5am... 6 hours before Tim and I were due onstage. Tim, of course, had fled the party long ago.


Up by 8am, right into the shower. Then, still damp, a hurried rehearsal of my part of the talk and some scribbled notes. The paper presentations started around 8, but we're the last one, at 11:15am. Into the van at 9:30 and meeting up with Tim for a couple more tries before it's time to go. I have had a total of 10 hours sleep since I arrived in Vegas, and was currently running on half a blueberry muffin and a Diet Pepsi. That was deliberate, because the Pants Crapping Hypothesis was about to get field tested. I'm going to do the intro, then Tim will do his section, then I'll do mine, and then Tim will wrap up while I find a bathroom and a hose.

It doesn't look like the full 1,000 people are there. Maybe 700-800. Great.


"Good morning, everyone."

The mike is off. I lean closer and raise my voice in case it's just not sensitive enough. At the same time, unknown to me, the sound guy turns it on.


I'm too close. The hard "T" sound come out as though I'm spitting into the mike. I'm completely thrown off before I say my first dozen words. I hope the elastic on my underwear can absorb the shock.

I find the right distance and volume and limp through the intro. It's only about a minute long, and Tim will be talking for the next 10 minutes. That will give me time to either regain my composure or stab myself to death with the laser pointer.

I've heard Tim's part maybe six times. The lights are bright and right in my eyes. It's very warm on stage. I've had very little sleep. I'm still in front of several hundred people...

I feel a huge yawn coming on.

I don't hear the last half of Tim's talk because my teeth are clamped shut harder than my dog's jaws on a dropped piece of chicken. I wonder if my eardrums will go before my eyes pop out or vice versa. Then I wonder if the charley horse cramp in my jaw will relax.

"...and here's Christian."

Bastard must have skipped some slides without telling me. Fortunately, my first few lines are written out verbatim, and the slide changes are clearly marked. I'm trying to keep eye contact but I still feel like I'm hitting my notes too hard. I find myself scanning the front of the room for celebrities I know to be around: James Randi, of course. Adam Savage. Penn Jillette. Nothing.

I make a lame joke about Iran. My next line would be drowned out by crickets if they lived in environments made entirely of molten rock. I think it's my imagination, but I'm pretty sure I see Michael Shermer and Brian Dunning in the back holding up a sign that says MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN. (Shermer is standing on a stepladder.) I resolve to have them beaten.

I'm done! I step back to let Tim wrap up. Question time! Only two questions, both for Tim. Was I remarkably clear in my talk, or did I suck so bad they don't know what I'm talking about? I will never know.

Not one thong. Just some ratty boxer shorts with an unidentifiable stain.

As I leave the conference room, I stuff my notes into a trashcan for safe-keeping. My pants lived to fight another day.

The rest of the day is spent surrendering my Skepchicks to the airlines before heading to a seafood buffet and the Penn & Teller show. The seafood was good, but I fell asleep for a bit during P&T. (It's not like Penn watched my show earlier, the big goon.)

So there it is. TAM, Skepchicks, and butt-puckering nervousness about making an ass out of myself in front of hundreds of people who know my name. Like high school.

A great trip, though. Congrats to Rebecca and Sid!

Everyone come to TAM 8 next year. It'll be hard to top that wedding, but we're scheduled to have three births, a Bat Mitzvah, four exorcisms, a mass excommunication, and we're going to crown the new King of Angola.

And when you come, make sure you stay for the paper presentations -- those are always awesome.


Maria said...

You said you took Rebecca and Sid to get their marriage license on the first day. Does that mean that the wedding wasn't a surprise for Rebecca? Just wondering.

:) Maria

Jen said...

You are the most awesome cabana boy with a car ever. We would have been lost without you. :)

The Man Version said...

It was still a surprise for Rebecca. She thought we were taking her for a Brazilian. She had no clue...

But that means someone at the courthouse actually gave her a Brazilian. (That must have been awkward with her brother along as well.) Fortunately, the Clark County Courthouse is home to the famous Waxing Magistrate, Judge Elissa "Squirmer" Cadish. Our secret was safe.

I thought she'd figure it out during the bachelorette party when she was opening the wedding gifts, helping her cousin with the wedding cake, trying on her wedding dress, and talking through the details of how Sid was going to propose.

And I was dead sure she knew when she said "Christian, if you get me another drink, you can have Prima Nocta."

But clearly this happens to you all the time when you're Head Skepchick. In fact, she still might not know she's married.

Amanda said...

I thought you were awesome before and now I know that you are actually THE awesomest.

The Man Version said...

Aww. Thanks, Jen & Amanda! If I'm awesome, it's only because I have surrounded myself with awesome people from whom I could learn :)

Anonymous said...

The talk was great, your nervousness was barely noticeable. I didn't make the connection that you had been driving the shuttle! Thanks so much, that was an awesome service.

And I want my boxers back.

(the captcha for this comment is the best ever - 'balsaci')

fwap said...

Wish I could have seen your and Tim's talk live. But, the ustream was good and you guys did a great job.

As always, I love your gift for colorful recaps. You really are a great friend to have. Christian's van service rocks.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Dude, I was in the audience and thought your talk was pretty cool. So ease up on yourself.

Anonymous said...

I'll say it again, you deserve a medal for all that drivin'. Thanks!!!! - Maggie

The Man Version said...

Thanks for the compliments, all! I'm glad both the paper presentation and my Phat Van Skilz were appreciated.

If we do the van think next year, I'm going to wear a jaunty hat and call people "guvnah."

Nicole said...

I am sure your cabana boy skillz and talk were both fantastic. Wish I could have been there! Heck, I couldn't even get to the Ustream... with being whisked off to the mountains with Tim and all.

Are all these talks on the DVD to come?


badrescher said...

I was there. Your talk was great. I was too busy typing notes to ask questions!

Great post. I'm glad your pants survived. If they didn't, I fear I would never have stopped laughing long enough to type this comment...